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Managing production risk on high input farms

Producers involved in this Producer Demonstration Site were spread across the high rainfall zone of Victoria. The producers were mostly running spring calving herds producing 400-450 kg steers 14-17 months of age. These producers along with many others have gradually intensified the productivity of their beef cattle enterprises with the objective of increasing profitability. This has been achieved through a variety of strategies including first adopting management systems including designing management calendars that optimise enterprise performance including aligning cattle feed demand with pasture supply, then increasing pasture growth, utilising more pasture by increasing stock numbers to increase beef production. The outcome is to manage risk at the same time as maximising profitability.

Potential risks that must be managed in high production systems include managing animal health problems. Two such issues that can potentially emerge in high production systems include worm control and trace element deficiencies. This project brought together the resources of about 16 producers that collectively manage over 13,000 beef cattle on 13,000 hectares to investigate evidence of emerging anthelmintic resistance and the impact of gastrointestinal parasites on production in addition to trace element deficiencies on high production properties determining the impact on production of trace element deficiencies with trace element response trials. The impact on production and the cost of production was determined.

This project identified a number of important issues associated with running beef cattle in high rainfall regions including a number of new findings and identified a number of gaps in current knowledge that if resolved would improve the efficiency and productivity of beef cattle.

Key finding include:

  • Drench resistance is present in cattle herds in Victoria to all drench groups with 50% of properties showing evidence of drench resistance to Ivermectin (Macrocylic Lactone (ML) drench group). Abamectin a more potent ML was still effective on farms tested with ivermectin resistance. About 20% of properties detected resistance with ivermectin to Small Brown Stomach Worm (Ostertagia), the most pathogenic gastrointestinal worm affecting cattle in south eastern Australia.
  • Based on experience with sheep where drench resistance is much more widespread and serious, it is important that producers understand the resistance status of worms on their cattle properties, minimise drench use through strategic worm control, consider rotation of effective drench groups, rather than total reliance on the ML group, ensure drench equipment is delivering an accurate dose and that cattle receive a full dose based on bodyweight when drenched. In addition all new cattle should receive a combination of at least a potent ML plus Benzimidazole (white drench group) and Levamisole (clear drench group) when introduced to prevent introducing drench resistant worms from other properties.
  • The difference in production as measured by liveweight gain (Based on a typical farm producing about 332 kg beef/ha) was up to 26 kg/head between good worm control and poor worm control for steers sold at the end of spring and up to an extra 14 kg of extra beef/head for cull heifers sold in late summer. For a typical 600 ha property in the high rainfall regions of Victoria running 16 dse/ha, this would be equivalent of producing an extra 13 kg liveweight/ha (4% increase) and a property with good worm control which would reduce the cost of production about $0.05/kg liveweight (as calculated on the MLA cost of production calculator.
  • This study highlighted that the main tool used for monitoring worm burdens (worm egg counts) in cattle has very limited value and in some situations can be very misleading as this study found that even when worm egg counts (WEC’s) were as low as 50 eggs per gram substantial growth rate responses were achieved with drenching. In essence better tools need to be developed to assist beef producers to decide when to time strategic and non strategic drenching. The trials also highlighted the gaps in knowledge for producers to make rational decisions of when to drench beef cattle apart from strategic times such as at weaning.
  • The main trace element deficiency diagnosed on farms investigated was selenium where 11/13 farms were deficient. Only 2/13 farms were deficient in copper and only one marginal for cobalt. Consistent responses to selenium supplementation were recorded that generated on average 3-20 kg/head increase in growth rate which generated a benefit cost ratio on between 3:1 to 18:1. This response has not previously been recorded in selenium response trials in south eastern Australia. It may be the result of exceptional seasonal conditions or the fact that selenium deficiency is more pronounced due to dilution with extra pasture growth in high input systems or complex interactions with other compounds such as sulphur with higher fertiliser application. .No response to copper was recorded.
  • On average correcting selenium deficiency would increase beef cattle production on a typical farm in high rainfall regions of Victoria of about 4.4 kg (1.3%) liveweight/ha and reduce the COP by $0.02/kg liveweight. This response is likely to be conservative as the trial was not conducted on calves before weaning and it is assumed there is not response in older cattle. No response is expected where selenium is not deficient.
  • Assuming good parasite control and response to selenium is additive, the potential increase in production if good worm control programs are adopted and selenium deficiency is rectified, is to increase production by 17.4 kg liveweight per hectare (5.3%) and reduce the cost of production by about $0.06/kg liveweight in a self replacing breeding

Approximately 570 producers, consultants and veterinarians have been presented information generated from this Producer Demonstration Site across Victoria.

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298.5KB 04/11/2011

This page was last updated on 24/07/2017

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